Thursday, May 17, 2012

In the Beginning--Starting to Write a Book

Photo by Clarence Simmons

Although I am still in the midst of the book tour for my first novel, Every Last Secret, I’m also beginning my third novel. (My second novel, Every Broken Trust, is with my editor at St. Martin’s/Minotaur Books and will come out in spring 2013.) I made notes on characters, back story, and plot for the third novel as I rode the train to and from Malice Domestic 2012 in Bethesda right after Every Last Secret’s launch in Kansas City. I made more notes while traveling to events in Mission, KS, Kansas City, KS, Lee’s Summit, MO, Blue Springs, MO, a Latina Week event in Kansas City, MO, and in between other promotional efforts and freelance jobs (which are still ongoing, book tour or no book tour).

As I make notes about characters and possible plot points and freewrite my major characters’ diaries to find their distinct voices, I grow more and more excited about the new book. It hangs around the edges of my mind while I screen manuscripts, give writing workshops, drive to events and book signings for Every Last Secret. I wake in the night with a character’s voice in my head or suddenly knowing about some key, hidden element in another character’s past that will drive some of his behavior.

At this point, it’s time to start writing the first draft. Is there more prep work to do? Yes, and each day’s writing session will be divided between planning work and writing the first draft. The first day will be hours of planning with a page or two of first draft. It will be hesitant, just finding its voice and its way into the book. The second day will also include more planning but the writing section of that time will be longer and more confident. This pattern will continue for a week or two until writing the first draft has completely taken over the entire time.

This is where I am on my new novel. I am developing confidence in this book and its particular needs. I am writing a few pages a day right now, but more each day than the day before. It’s slower and clumsier than usual because I’m working it around the book tour, book promotion, and freelance activities, but it’s building that necessary momentum, nonetheless. I know that, soon enough, the book will take off, and I will spend each day’s time scribbling away to keep up with it. And then, soon enough, I will hit the sloggy middle and realize that I can never write this book and I should have started another book altogether—and that probably I’m just fooling myself thinking that I’m really a writer anyway.

Lots of people think that writing novels gets easier with each novel—or, at least, each novel that’s published. They’re wrong, though. I know this not only from my own experience but from the experience of novelist friends who have written and published multiple—often award-winning and/or bestselling—novels. Each book has its own set of problems that the writer must solve. The only way to avoid that is to write exactly the same book over and over again—something my friends and I have no wish to do.

The one advantage of having published a novel (especially if you get to know others who have done the same) is that you know you will feel helpless and hopeless at a certain point in the book, and you know that you will make it past that if you just keep writing and don’t give up. You also know that, when you go back to find the days when your writing was flowing versus the days when you squeezed out each dreadful word, letter by letter, you can’t tell them apart at the end. None of this helps you to avoid the hopelessness and dread, but it helps you to keep writing through them.

Right now, however, I face none of that. I’m excited about the book’s premise. I’m learning more and more about the characters and what drives them. This book sits before me, seductive in all its potential and possibility. Rationally, I know that nasty middle awaits me in all its depressing hopelessness, but emotions are driving me now, and emotionally I’m in love with my new book. Like anyone in the early throes of love, my vision glosses over any and all imperfections or potential problems. All I see is exciting perfection. All I want is to be able to spend all my time with my beloved. Since I know the time will come soon enough when I growl at my husband, “Why did I ever start this @#$$%^&^&* book? Why did I ever think I could be a novelist?,” I’m going to enjoy these early stages of infatuation as long as I can.

What’s your favorite time when writing—the beginning or the end? (I assume no one is masochistic enough to prefer the middle!) How do you make it through the tough times you encounter when writing?


  1. Gack! I am at the line edit of the first draft stage. It's like seeing your beloved with her hair in curlers, or his face unshaven and hair uncombed. The magical attraction will return but at the moment it's just work.

  2. LOL Yes, Warren, exactly! Writing a novel is like a marriage. You've got to have enough solid stuff to get you past these temporary "What am I doing with this stranger!" moments.

  3. Congratulations of your book release & tour.
    The beginnings get my juices flowing. It's the 'talking/flirting' phase, I just go on and on. The middle's not too bad until I sense the end and whether it's from my love affair with the main character or not, something holds me back.

    If I let it sit for a few days I can start working on the end. When the first draft is done I'm exhausted but happy and sad at the same time.
    By revision 3 I'm starting to drag my feet, the thrill is gone-just for a few days. Then I have to start all over again.

  4. Yes, we all go through phases of attraction and repulsion with our books. You're right about the beginning being the 'talking/flirting' phase. That's where I am right now with this new book--all excitement and possibility. It's only later that reality sets in.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I'm glad to hear that others love starting a new book, then struggle with the middle. That's where I gave up on my first two attempts. In my WiP, it seemed like an eternity to get from 40,000 words to 60,000 words. I pushed through while we were snowed in at the office by a blizzard--writing was better than filing or accounting.

  6. Yes, Faith, I've heard many writers talk about the problems they have in the second half of the middle. by the time you hit the end, you've built momentum and things just roll along, but before you get to that point, it can take real fortitude to stick with it.

  7. I love most of the first draft. I'm okay with the second draft. By the middle of the third draft (where I am now), I start thinking, "Why the hell did I think I could do this?" But I slog on. Oddly enough, I do not feel this way with shorter fiction.

  8. Mary, it's lovely to see you here! I think most of us have some time during the writing of the book that we fall out of love with it and begin to doubt ourselves heavily.

  9. I'm re-line editing the line edit and I still occasionally chuckle. Maybe there is hope.

  10. Linda, I'm so into Skeet now that I cannot ignore her for very long. Took her along on our errands run today and let Richard do the leg work while I read. I'm dreading the inevitable -- the end. :0( I'm impressed with your process, and it shows in EVERY LAST SECRET. You, dear friend, are a great role model!

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  12. As long as you still have a sense of humor about it, Warren, there is hope!

  13. Dear Ann, so nice to see you here! I'm glad you're enjoying EVERY LAST SECRET and Skeet.

    It's funny how writers live in a different time zone than their readers. When readers first get the book, the writer has just finished another book and is starting the next. So writers are usually living two or more books ahead of their readers at any one time.

    It is a process, and when you short the process, I believe it shows in the quality of your work.

    Thanks so much for stopping by!